Musk Says SpaceX Is Piecing Together Rocket-Failure Events

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Elon Musk said SpaceX is pinning down the events that led to its Falcon 9 rocket disintegrating shortly after a June 28 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“We are putting together a super-detailed timeline and making sure we have a precise sequence,” he said Tuesday at the ISS R&D Conference in Boston, a gathering devoted to scientific research on the International Space Station. “In this case the data does seem to be quite difficult to interpret. Whatever happened is not a simple, straightforward thing.”

The Space Exploration Technologies Corp. unmanned rocket, topped with a Dragon cargo spacecraft with supplies for the space station, broke up two minutes and 19 seconds into the mission. The blast was in the craft’s upper-stage liquid-oxygen tank, moments before the main booster was set to separate following takeoff.

Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive officer, said in a July 5 Twitter post that he expected preliminary conclusions on the flight by the end of this week. The company’s engineers have been evaluating the available data to determine the cause and are creating a timeline by the millisecond, he said Tuesday.

The explosion was a a major setback for SpaceX, Musk said Tuesday in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he was attending the annual Allen & Co. conference of technology and media executives.

The mishap marked the third failure of a resupply mission to the space station in eight months, but the crew of the orbiting lab has adequate supplies.

“We always assume we’ll lose some vehicles and we have to deal with it,” said Michael Suffredini, manager of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s International Space Station program.

Manned Flights

NASA has said it’s sticking to plans for astronauts to fly on U.S. spacecraft rather than Russian Soyuz rockets by 2017. The U.S. hasn’t had its own manned launches since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011.

The June 28 attempt was SpaceX’s seventh mission under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to resupply the space station. In May, SpaceX was certified by the U.S. Air Force to compete for military launches with United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Musk, 44, founded SpaceX in 2002 with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Once considered a long-shot startup, the Hawthorne, California-based company has more than 4,000 employees.

For more, read this QuickTake: Space Taxis

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